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What if you found a guitar, wherever you happened to be, and wanted to try your hand at playing it? Suppose that you had little or no experience but wanted to try strumming anyway?

The first thing you need to do, to get some kind of acceptable sound out of it, is to tune those six strings. If the tension on each of those strings isn’t adjusted in relation to each of the other strings, you will be left frustrated and discouraged by the racket you produce.

Guitar strings are tuned to certain notes on the piano. If you have access to a piano, you can use it to tune your guitar. Find middle C on the keyboard and then go down the scale to the next E. The thickest string on the guitar should be adjusted to sound exactly like this note. Low E, the thick string, will be the top string as you look down if you’re holding the instrument properly. If you are right handed, you hold the neck with your left hand and strum with the right. Adjust string tension and sound by turning the tuning keys on the neck of the guitar. Work your way up the keyboard, from low notes to higher notes. The strings of the guitar, going from thickest to thinnest, should be tuned to these notes: E, A, D, G, B, E. This will give you a natural guitar chord.

If there isn’t a piano nearby you can still tune the strings in relation to each other. Tuning the strings in relation to the other strings on the guitar is the key factor in making that guitar playable and your experience pleasurable.

Staring with the thickest (E) string, adjust the tension by turning the tuning key attached to that string until you hear a comfortable bass note. Don’t turn it too tight! It should play easily with little force. The other strings will be tuned in relation to the E string and you don’t want to bend that guitar neck by over-tightening all of the strings.

Place one finger just behind the 5th fret of that large E string. A fret is that little area on the neck under the strings separated by those rises or thin bars protruding towards the strings. Press the string down onto the area behind the fifth rise. This is the note that you want to tune the second thickest, or A string to. Adjust the tension on your A string so that it sounds the same as the note being made while pushing down on the fifth fret of E string with your finger while you play it.

If your ear isn’t sensitive to small variations in tone, you can notice that when two strings are tuned to the same pitch, they will vibrate off of each other. Playing one string will cause a tuned string to vibrate, or resonate off of the sound of the other. Repeat the same procedure with the A string to tune the D, and the D to tune the G. When you’re ready to tune the B (5th) string, use the fourth fret on the G to tune the B. Tune little E by pressing on the fifth fret on the B string.

When you’ve finished, tune one more time just to double check your work. Now strum. This is a natural guitar chord. If you find it sounds too high or low in pitch, you can re-adjust the largest string’s tension and then re-tune all of the other strings.

You can experiment with different chords by strumming the strings while pressing one or some down on different frets. If you think it hurts your finger tips, you’re right, it does. It takes a week or so of regular playing to build up calluses on your fingertips. The rest is practice and going out to buy a good beginners guitar guide from your local sheet music store. Guitar tuners will help you tune your instrument to the proper key and enable you to play along with the radio or other musicians. There are small electronic ones and old fashioned ones available too. They aren’t expensive and will encourage you to keep on going.
Happy playing!